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Make it big — pricing a large detail job

October 11, 2010
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Summary: This month, Professional Carwashing & Detailing® asked Frank Canna of Mirror Finish Detailing to answer a question submitted by an anonymous reader wondering how to go about pricing a large detail job.

Question: A fire department has asked my company to detail a few of their engines. How should I price the job?

Frank Canna: There is a simple solution to the problem of pricing a big detailing job, such as a fire truck, semi-truck, school bus or RV.

The first thing you will need is a clear understanding of how much money you need to make per hour in order to cover expenses and make a reasonable profit. Then you will need to put together an accurate estimate of exactly how many hours you think the job will take to complete.

From a business standpoint, detailing a large vehicle is really no different than detailing a mid-size car. The key is to always know in advance your hourly rate, the rate you need to make for every hour worked. This rate is the key.

Once you know your hourly rate, you can go ahead and figure out how long you think that big job will take to complete. This information will give you a clear picture of the time required for the job and how much you need to charge to justify accepting the job.

Then it is simply a matter of charging accordingly.

Do the math
For example, let’s say you have estimated that it would take two of your people working eight hours a day for five days to completely clean, polish and wax a fire truck. That works out to 80 hours of work.

At an hourly rate of $50 per hour, the price you need to charge for detailing the fire truck would be $4,000.

Now that sounds like a lot of money, however, it is really no different than two people working eight hours a day for five days, detailing 20 cars at $200 per car.

Based on an hourly rate of $50 per hour, both situations work out to a total of $4,000. That is the beauty of making sure your prices are always based on a set hourly rate.

The hourly rate
So, how do you go about figuring out what an accurate hourly rate would be for your detailing business? Well, the first thing you need to understand is that your actual operating expenses will become the basis for determining your hourly rate.

That will be the true rate you will need to make for every hour worked in order to keep your business going. This is the easiest way to make certain you will be able to remain in business and make a reasonable profit.

Along with all of your operating expenses, you will also need to make sure your profit margin is included in your hourly rate.

Among other costs, your actual operating expenses will include:

  1. Salaries, wages, commissions and payroll taxes;
  2. Marketing, advertising and promotion;
  3. Office administration, legal and accounting fees;
  4. Supplies, products;
  5. Rent, utilities, insurance, taxes and licenses, depreciation, interest;
  6. Equipment repairs and maintenance; and
  7. Repairs and depreciation of vehicle and trailer.

Estimate your time
Be careful. Being in business is not just about keeping busy. It all comes down to getting a handle on how to estimate how much time is needed to complete a big job.

Keep in mind that most big vehicles will need to be estimated on an individual basis. The amount of work involved will usually be determined by the age and overall condition of each individual vehicle.

Recreational vehicle detailing, including travel trailers, can usually be completed at the rate of about two feet per hour. That would include a thorough wash along with polishing and waxing of all exterior surfaces.

Using the two-feet-per-hour rule, you can get a basic idea of the hours needed to do most RVs simply by dividing the total length of the RV by two. As a guideline, you can usually estimate a 30-foot RV would require about 15 hours of work to complete, while you would need about 17 hours to complete a 34-foot RV.

Of course, these numbers would vary depending on the age and condition of each RV.

Box trucks can be estimated in the same way. Just divide the total length of the box truck by two. That will give you a good starting point in figuring out exactly how long you think the job will take to complete.

Using this approach, a 26-foot box truck would require about 13 hours of work, while you would need about 15 hours to completely detail a 30-foot box truck.

Remember, the two-foot-per-hour rule is just a guideline. The age and general condition of the vehicle will play a much greater role in how you will go about accurately estimating the time needed.

Putting out fires
Fire trucks are generally kept in relatively good condition. Of course, this is usually the condition of the vehicle before it arrives at the scene of a fire.

This is not always the case with ambulances and other emergency vehicles. Some emergency vehicles are hardly even washed and almost never polished and waxed. You will need to take these thoughts into consideration when estimating the time necessary to detail an emergency vehicle.

Something else to think about is the fact that most fire trucks come in a variety of shapes and sizes. That fact alone will definitely play a role in determining the hours needed to complete a job.

Another time consuming factor to consider is the removal of airborne contaminants that sometimes affect the surfaces of fire trucks and other emergency vehicles. Even a limited amount of surface contamination can usually turn a simple job into a multi-step, time-consuming process.

Semi-trucks, dump trucks and garbage trucks are another story. Everything depends on the age of the truck and its overall condition.

As you know, not all big rigs are the same. Some have plenty of chrome along with highly polished wheels that may require extensive cleaning and protecting. Others will be over-the-road trucks which require a couple of hours just for washing.

The key is to carefully evaluate each vehicle in order to arrive at an accurate estimate of the time needed. The fact the entire front end of the cab hinges forward into an upright position on most large trucks is a real time - saver. That feature alone makes it a lot easier for washing, polishing and waxing the hood and fenders.

The big story
Something else to think about is getting publicity from your local newspaper, radio or TV station. Newspaper articles about local businesses usually focus on what is interesting or unique about those businesses.

Contact the local news media in your area and let them know where and when the work will be getting done. Think about it — how often does a local detailing business get to detail a fire truck?

Clue them in on your big story for some free publicity and watch as more big jobs roll your way.

Frank Canna has been in the detailing business for 20 years and is the owner of Mirror Finish Detailing, Williamstown, NJ. He can be reached at